Done!

The Painting is finished! (Well, almost. I have a couple of touch-ups to do, but only a few minutes’ work at best).

This has been quite the pandemic project. Obviously from the size of Jamie and Robert in the photos, you can see that the kitchen reno was done some time ago. The painting in the flaky bedroom began at Easter. Since then, I’ve done almost every wall and ceiling in the place (the only exceptions being the bits Jamie did when she came home).

The ensuite reno did involve some paid tradies, but otherwise it’s been done by the Colewomen.

Now, onto my big plans for the garden …

Over It: the HSC, Higher Ed reforms, and Home Renovations

This made me laugh when I checked social media this morning:

EIGHT years on … and … still painting …

… and then I got out of bed and painted a ceiling before I showered, had breakfast, and started my workday!

Here it is: the LAST room in progress. And it needs to progress fast, because my husband is currently sleeping in my daughter’s bed, my clothes are all around me, one child has announced he’s coming home today and the other one says she’s home tomorrow. So if this doesn’t get done in the next day and a half, we are looking at a long weekend (yay!) with more people than beds (boo!).

I don’t think that would make me very popular, somehow.

My Facebook memories tell me that I have been using these September school holidays to work on stuff around the home for a very long time. More than one home, in fact. This is the third one. Nine years ago, I was mid-meltdown over the delayed kitchen. This is what it looked like one day after it was meant to be finished:

Most definitely not finished.

Bizarrely, if your look where the fridge is meant to be, they’d capped off the taps and outlet from the old sink, but left the washing machine taps where they were. So Jody and I somehow managed to lift the washing machine back inside and hook it up for a little while.

Because every kitchen needs a washing machine.

It looks a lot better now. I’ve been meaning to get an “After” photo, but the kitchen is not currently tidy enough for that and I’m, you know, painting ceilings and walls before and after work, so most things around here are only getting untidier!

Focusing on renovations has been a helpful distraction because the higher education sector has been having a tough time of it. At our institution, we are all now on reduced pay, and waiting to hear which of our colleagues have been granted an early retirement package. As if that didn’t bring enough uncertainty into attempts at future planning, we’re waiting to hear the fate of the higher education reforms package, which seems likely to go back to the Senate in early November. All of this sees me dragging my feet and prioritising things like painting and blogging over finalising the agenda for our planning day, which is next week.

Overnight we learned that one of the two cross bench Senators who will ultimately decide the fate of the package has pointed out the inequity baked into it and decided not to support it. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and peace when I read the news–most un-2020 of me. Of course, there is still one undecided vote, and so the legislation may still be passed. I’ve listened to all the arguments for and against, but at the end of the day, I keep thinking of the current Year 12. Not the ones in the news for off-colour scavenger hunts (they are over-privileged drongos, pure and simple, and I refuse to give them cyber-column inches) but the bulk of the 70 000 or so of them who started their Senior year in a smoke-hazed apocalyptic landscape, who’ve spent much of their final year largely out of the classroom because of a pandemic, and who now have to sit their exams and try to get into Uni as though it were any other year. Mind you, they are also potentially facing tougher competition for entry: with high youth unemployment, the first recession in a generation, and a practical inability to take a gap year when travel is off the table and casual employment is hard to come by, we are seeing in early admissions and application data what we always see in recessions: that our young people are turning to the relative safe haven of higher education to up-skill and ride out the worst of the unemployment rises.

Year 12 who, at this point, don’t know whether their degrees are going to cost them what they thought they would when they applied, or some new amount decided by legislation between the times of application and enrollment. Their exams start in a fortnight. By the time the Senate decides what their degrees will cost next year, I’ll be marking the papers that generate their ability to matriculate.

And no matter how you cut it, that seems to me to be profoundly unfair.

I’m late, I’m late

… for WordPress Wednesday. Clearly I need to update my calendar and pop my blogging spots back in there so that I can chase them around the page as other meetings pop up!

I have managed to put “writing sprint” times in there for about a fortnight, so there’s that. The “Writing Sprint” idea comes from Academic Writing Coach Cathy Mazak. Basically, you block out an hour or two (or in my case, 1.5) each workday for a fortnight, just to focus on one writing project. I popped this in to my diary at the start of last week, because I felt I had hit a COVID-wall and my motivation was lacking and my writing wheels spinning. My original plan was to use it to get somewhere with our Vampire Diaries project. Which I did, in fact, start (well, I rounded up my notes into one spot–they were previously in numerous folders on internal and external hard drives, and a rogue thumb drive). But then a week ago I received a list of further suggested revisions from the Revise and Resubmit I was so happy to get off my desk earlier. So I changed gear, which is probably not really what the Writing Sprint is about. I was pretty cranky that I only had a week to do the extra revisions, but then I got some advice from another academic, got over myself and did it in three days.

So for the last two, I’ve been back to focussing on Tyler Lockwood.

He never looks this cool and calm in the show.

For this book project, I originally wrote a chapter about masculinity and the adolescent/lycanthropic transformation of high school jock Tyler Lockwood in The Vampire Diaries television series. (In the books, he was called Tyler Smallwood, but apparently that would have been *ahem* unpalatable for contemporary YA TV!). Thing is, it’s been a record-breaking number of years since that piece was accepted, so now it needs some pretty major revisions prior to publication. Back then, The Originals sequel, in which Tyler featured, wasn’t even an idea! I’m currently reviewing scenes from a decade ago to remind myself of the finer details of his origins storyline, but the bulk of the update will come in tracking how his character developed after the original time of writing (hint: significantly).

When I’m working on any piece, I use a wallpaper of the cast or character as a means of silently nagging myself. The image above is what is currently on my homescreens. Believe me when I say that after a while you just want to finish the writing project in order to be able to change the screen to something less guilt-inducing.

On the home project front, things are going much slower, but deliberately so. With just the main bedroom left to paint and only a couple of days of the school tern left, we’ve agreed that I’ll leave my husband alone to limp through to the end of the week with his room undisturbed. Then I’ll attack and finish it in the school holidays, when he’s rebooting. Depending on how my work juggle goes and if I can sneak in a day or two of leave myself, we might even be able to get in some gardening time after that.

In the meantime, I’m trying to “redo” some of the chaotic areas of my home. After six months of nothing being in quite the right place, I’m ready to do a major Spring clean, I think.

If it seems as though I’ve been renovating forever, then prepare yourselves for these “on this day” memories from NINE years ago. Nine!

Basically, we’d agreed that the whole new kitchen thing would happen–you guessed it–in the September holidays. Tony was taking the kids to QLD to see his parents (those were the days!) and I was going to supervise the project. To save money, I was going to do my own demolition and I thought I’d get a head start on it the last few days of term.

So he came home late one night and the pantry, rangehood, and cupboard doors were gone. Our fridge was already outside on the verandah where it had lived since we move in, in March of 2007–because it didn’t fit in our tiny kitchen.

The next day, the kids (then in Primary school) wanted to do more. I unhooked the oven and we wrestled it outside to sit on the front lawn, awaiting the rubbish removal folks. Then they asked wasn’t the wall coming down, too?

None of this cutting whole sheets out for us, oh no. Armed with a domestic hammer, we started taking it out, each piece about the size of a twenty cent piece.

Tony came home from work and found Rob delightedly swinging a hammer at the wall. He looked at me, stunned. “I thought you were getting a bloke in to do that?” he asked.

Ten-year-old-Rob turned to him with a big grin and announced with perfect comic timing: “I AM the bloke!”

Tony helped me get the washing machine outside before they headed North. And then various hijinks ensued with some tradies not turning up when they were supposed to, and others saying they couldn’t proceed until the missing ones did their bit, and me sitting here by myself in a shell, surviving on BBQed food and takeaway, with all my loungeroom furniture on the back patio and no water in the centre of the house. My dear mate Jody called and heard the distress in my voice over the phone, and said, “I can be there in two hours.” She drove down from Sydney, helped me wrestle the washing machine back into the house so I could at least do laundry, and camped here with me.

By the time Tony and the kids got home, it was all done and I had all the furniture back in place. I don’t think I’d be physically capable of the latter feat now. The muscle aches and back pain alone have meant it’s taken me this long just to paint, with no demo. Recovering after each room takes longer than recovering from minor surgery would have when I was younger!

So, I am very much looking forward to finishing this all up, and then not doing any more work inside the house this year. We’ve still got some longer term plans and there’s plenty to do in the yard, but for now: the end is in sight.

And a good thing, too, because I’ve got writing to do!

Darkness Falls

A few weeks back, I received a text from Endeavour Energy, the electricity wholesaler, advising me that we were going to lose power on a Monday from 8pm until 5am the following morning. A few days before, I received a reminder. I had popped it in the diary. I told my husband. Twice.

Our stove doesn’t always work properly – the night before, Father’s Day, it had taken about four hours to cook a roast, because the oven temp kept dropping. So on this Monday I was running around making sure that the washing machine and dryer had finished, making sure the dinner was actually cooking, charging phones, and making sure there were candles in place.

We sat down to watch telly, thinking we’d get half the program in. We got to the end. We made it to bedtime. When I got up in the middle of the night, the lights were still working. Cool.

Next morning I noted that the clocks didn’t need to be reset and told my husband that I thought it hadn’t gone off at all. Weird.

That Friday, I picked up Mr 19 from the railway. “Mum, the strangest thing happened on Monday night …” he told me.

I started laughing. “Did your power go off?”

Yep. I’m on the electricity account for my kids’ flat. It hasn’t occurred to me that it could be *their* property to which the text was referring.

So with no warning, there were my kids – and a mate, there for a sleepover. No power, no prep, no charged phones, hadn’t showered, and with dinner only just in the oven. Luckily my daughter is 21 and in that decorating with candles phase, so they had those. A tale of two homes.

Speaking of homes, I’m one room closer to my painting job being done. Jamie’s room is complete. That only leaves the Master bedroom, which we’ve decided can wait until the school holidays in a couple of weeks.
(Still can’t show you pictures of Robert’s room because despite my nagging over the last two weekends, there are still piles of crap in there, yet to be put away).

In my “spare” time this week, I’m keeping an eye on the Senate Enquiry into the Higher Education reforms. So far it seems like most witnesses are supporting it, which I’m not thrilled about. As much as I’d like to see the additional funding for regional, rural and remote students, it seems to me to be ill thought out. One of the main points of the HECS-HELP scheme is that it removes a price differential as a determining factor in course choice. Increasing the costs of humanities courses that often attract first in family and regional students is not going to make them think about taking up Health or STEM. The increased debt load might make them opt not to come at all, though. And that’s not good for anyone.

There’s been other stuff going on on the home front; broken chicken coop wheels, gardening, juicing lemons … and some other things that are pretty sad, so I’m not ready to write about them yet. But for now, we keep on keeping on.

Wait, is it Wednesday already?

It’s pretty late in the day to be working out that it’s WordPress Wednesday, but I guess that’s a good metaphor for how this week is going so far. Monday was such a mess I only made it to mid-morning before retreating to a darkened room with a migraine. Apparently there really is a limit to how many curve balls you can cop at work before your brain explodes just a little bit!

Backing up a bit, though, we had a lovely weekend because the kids came home for Father’s Day. I spent Friday up in Moss Vale at the Southern Highlands campus, where plans were afoot to farewell our Admin Assistant, Erin, who’s taking a six month break from her role. I spent the day working there and then came home to see the kids, and let the party people party in peace.

I did pick up a new family member in the process, however.

Meet my latest companion, Zoe.

Zoe had been living as a solo hen at my colleague Stephen’s house, and since she has a couple of boisterous canine brothers, getting more hens to keep her company wasn’t really an option. So after some negotiations, Erin and I headed into the chook pen to corner a single chook. I warned the chook that she might not like what was going to happen next but that she’d be fine, before grabbing her. And then I tried to reason with her (the chook, not Erin) that she should stop flapping and let me pin her wings so that she wouldn’t injure herself. At that point Erin retreated from the run and I heard her call out to Stephen, “I think she’ll be fine.”

I do remember wondering whether she meant me or the chook.

I placed the big cardboard box on the passenger seat beside me and popped a hand on it when we went around corners, and there are quite a few when you travel via Kangaroo Valley. The chook whinged the whole way, so I knew she was fine and had enough air. When we got home I transferred her to the cat carrier above, and popped her in the run to keep her a bit separate, but get the others used to her.

Previously unnamed, we of course had to go through the list of as-yet-unused companion names and while the rest of my family ignored me, my son turned to me very seriously and said, “I think Zoe.” So Zoe she is.

Zoe Heriot, companion to the second Doctor.

Day 2 we kept her in and let the others out, much to their disgust because they lost access to their nesting boxes. Day 3 I threw the doors open but Zoe was not overly interested in free ranging. She’s getting a bit more into it over time.

Day 3: Disinterested. (Above). Day 4, Ruling the roost (below)

In addition to socialising a chook, my daughter decided to indulge our indoor cat, Tinkerbell, who thinks she wants to be an outdoor cat and is forever trying to escape. As we learned when she has previously, briefly managed to do the Harry Holt, however, she actually finds Outside to be be Big and Scary.

When your new chicken matches your old cat …

While Jamie was here, and in between knocking out assignments, scholarship applications and lecture prep, she assisted with yet more painting and a bit of gardening. Earlier in the week I’d had a good go at Robert’s room, but left it to him to move the bulk of the furniture because my back is protesting mightily, at this point. The photo below is as far as I got on my own. About this time, my husband popped his head in and cheerily suggested that I sing out if I needed help, which left me pondering what on earth made him think there was even a possibility that this was finished and I therefore didn’t need any assistance?

No After shots yet, because we promptly moved half of Jamie’s furniture in there so that we could start on her room this weekend!

Relaxing at home (when you have a solid dose of McMahon genes)

I just have the touch-ups to go and then hopefully I can enlist some assistance to move the stuff that belongs in the kids’ rooms, into the kids’ rooms. At which point, there will only be the main bedroom to go. And fixing the door jamb into the ensuite that was replaced but not yet painted. But I’m definitely getting there.

On Sunday Jamie cooked up a pretty snazzy celebratory brunch. I will be forever grateful that she went into hospo for her casual teenage jobs, because she has learned a lot of useful things in the process. (I still think being a waitress is where/when I learned to actually cook!). Rob went into retail and it has fewer skills that are transferable to the household – although we do get some pretty impressive balloon bouquets on our birthdays!

I kid you not, there was an actual menu and this is what I ordered.

So, I theoretically should have been in a relatively good place to be dealing with curve balls this week after a pleasant, productive weekend, but I wasn’t. It’s been a long and difficult year, we have buckets of uncertainty at work–where we are losing staff (voluntarily at this stage, but it’s a loss all the same), and today we got word that Fair Work passed our EBA variation, which is nice and all, but it means our temporarily reduced pay packets cease to be theoretical very, very soon. Yesterday’s evening news bulletin was all about journalists who are household names seeking embassy refuge in the middle of the night before being hurriedly bundled out of China. It’s all very … 2020. Dystopic. And of course my heart goes out to my friends in Victoria, who are dealing with another layer of yuckiness on top of all this.

Please rest reassured that we’re not feeling very “gold standard” here in NSW at all.

Spring is Sprung

It was August 1988. Princess Beatrice–she of the recent controversial wedding dress fame–had been born on 8/8/88, and my friend had been beside herself wanting to be the one to write that date on the class board. Chalkboard, you young folk.

Who wore it better?

Late August/September was Work Experience season for Year 10. I had a week’s work experience at The Lithgow Mercury. One of the staff writers, Jeff, turned to me cheerfully one morning and said, “Come on; it’s time to go do the ‘Spring is Sprung, the grass is ‘riz’ story.” And then I was propped up against some cherry blossoms in a park on the highway, and this image was plastered across the front page.

Slow news week, clearly.

So as I sit here looking at the buds on our deciduous trees outside, reminders that it is now officially Spring here in Australia are kind of what stops everything feeling a bit … Groundhog Day.

Don’t drive angry.

I am still painting. I’m in Robert’s room now. It’s a bugger of a job, because the room is small and has some extra angles and with the bed in the middle, I can’t quite get to every wall in the way I would like. It took darn near two hours to get one coat on last night, and in the harsh light of day, I’m thinking it’s going to need three. Plus I need to come up with a plan to reach the bit I was unable to reach. And I need to do it soon, because both kids are coming home this weekend, so he can’t bunk down in his sister’s room the way he has for the last two weekends.

The ScoMo Jigsaw Puzzle continues at an incredibly slow pace, but the puzzle preserver I ordered in March is now in the post, so I guess I’d better pick up the pace. After painting, of course.

The never-ending videoconferenced meetings continue, but each day seems to bring new surprises in the higher education sector. The reforms package is headed to the Senate; locally, we have (as of an hour ago) a decision on who will be our new Vice Chancellor. This week, I was asked to give input into key enrollment metrics. At the moment, it feels like a game of academic pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. There are potential changes in students’ enrollment patterns because of bushfires, COVID, floods, unemployment, a recession (to be officially announced later this week), and the reforms before the parliament. It’s an extraordinarily difficult environment in which to try to make predictions.

One bright spot on the horizon: I’m heading up to the Southern Highlands campus for a visit on Friday. It will be my first in-person visit to any of the other regional campuses since February. One of our staff is taking an extended leave of absence and Moss Vale is close enough to not require an overnight stay, so it’s not so much “travel” as “working on campus … just at a different campus.” I’ll pack masks in case there are other tutors in the office, but in all likelihood I’ll be every bit as socially distanced as I am here at my dining room table most of the day.

No cats to sit on the laptop up there, though.

Broken Run

I missed WordPress Wednesday next week, after six (?) weeks of being good. I took last Wednesday as an annual leave day. Since we can no longer travel anywhere on “proper” holidays, I’ve taken to nabbing a mid-week stay-at-home-and-potter day when the odd day pops up that’s not back-to-back online videoconferenced meetings.

My exciting news for the day is that I have submitted a Revise and Resubmit that has been looming over my head for some time. I had told the editor I needed a month, which would have been up on Monday. Despite my best intentions, I stayed at work until 6pm the last two nights to try to finish it up, and it still took until 3pm today. There should have been dancing on the tables, but instead I headed off to another online meeting.

This week has already been endlessly long, and going to the office and staying until teatime hasn’t really helped. It’s also meant that when I get home, I can barely manage to sort out some dinner and make it to the couch, where mindless television hums along in the background. With a very few exceptions, I wouldn’t even say that what I do is watching TV. It’s more passive than that.

I’ll always make an exception for this.

So, very little more has happened on the reno front. Rob and I made an attempt at clearing his room when he was home last weekend, and I’ve been in a few times to remove mold and cobwebs and try desperately to make it all look and smell cleaner before I really attack it with the Sugar Soap. I hope he wasn’t expecting it to be finished and ready for him to move back in this weekend!

I also haven’t worked on the ScoMo memorial jigsaw puzzle for a bit, but that may be just because it’s getting hard.

Rookie error: thinking a night time image featuring reflections is “pretty.” It’s hard, is what it is.

One thing I did manage to do was to encourage a regional colleague to not be scared of blogging. Erin, our admin assistant at UOW Southern Highlands and a proud recent addition to the ranks of UOW alumni, has started a personal blog where she tells the story behind some of the photos in her Instagram account (an account which sometimes makes me envious, right before I remember I’m older and more sedentary and apparently too lazy to even persist with a jigsaw puzzle when it gets a bit hard!). You can check it out here.

Flooding Rains and COVID closeness

Things in NSW seem to be gradually hotting up on the COVID-19 front. Not like Melbourne, but more than Auckland and New Zealand more generally, who’ve reacted swiftly and hard overnight, in response to just four cases. We’ve had four cases within proximity of our regional campuses this week (2 in Batemans Bay and 2 in the Shoalhaven), and we’re still muddling along with non-mandatory masks and open pubs.

The Batemans Bay cases are a bit close to home, because we had both staff and students who were at the impacted schools and then on campus the next day. So far, all the test results have come back negative, so things seem to be fairly contained. The two cases from Sydneysiders visiting the Shoalhaven have impacted my son who works in retail in Nowra, and who suddenly had masks become compulsory midway through a shift on the weekend. Luckily, he had one in his bag. My friend’s daughter made one for each of us and sent them as a care package with a heartfelt message. They are “over-engineered” (in the words of her mother, who designed them), and very soft. Rob has been raving about his, and dutifully washing it and laying it out to dry overnight between work shifts.

My mask. My daughter has cats, my son has stars, and my husband has a dark animal-print one.

I really haven’t had a chance to wear mine yet, because I’ve barely left the house.

Part of the reason I’ve barely left is another bout of flooding–the worst in thirty years, we’re told. Certainly it’s the first time we’ve had water come into the garage, and we’ve lived here thirteen and a half years.

Tony very nearly got the swimming pool he’s always wanted, by default.

(I also have video of our normally dry creek bed as a raging torrent, but I’m not prepared to pay an annual fee just to share it here. I’ll see if it can be added to my personal website.)

On the homefront, the ensuite is finished so while the house is untidy and three bedrooms still haven’t had their paint refresh, everything is actually functional, which is nice. The fear when doing renovations at the speed of cash is one of inadvertently doing more damage while saving, but karma seems to have been on our side in this instance.

Ta-daaa!

And in more big news, we finally found a local company that will check and clean solar panels. This has literally never been done, because the company who installed them went out of business not long afterwards, and we’ve struggled to find anyone in our area with the correct certification (well, I did find one, but he didn’t actually show up at the appointed time!). By my calculations (by which I mean, I know we signed the contract on the last possible day to get the then-60c feed in tariff and I had a quick Google) they were installed in 2011, so I’m well aware that the prognosis might be dire. But they’re currently earning us all of about $10 per month, so I’m hoping that a clean and service might provide some sort of return on the investment of getting them looked out.

Now that I don’t have a renovation project to manage, I have found something else to fill my time. Back in April, I did my civic duty and ordered a couple of “essential” jigsaw puzzles. One order was cancelled, and the other only just turned up about a week ago. Apparently when the PM tells the nation to buy jigsaw puzzles, it mucks up the supply chain of jigsaw puzzles just a little bit. Anyway, mine is here just in time for a potential second lockdown, and it’s already testing my patience significantly. I chose a lovely image of the Venetian canals, thinking we could frame it and hang it on the wall.

I hope they have big walls in whatever aged care facility I wind up in, because this looks and feels like it is going to take decades to complete … and that’s assuming the cats don’t knock it over or push a few key pieces off the desk in the interim!

On Not Travelling

**Content warning: Suicidality, bushfires

Today was the worst Coronavirus day on record in Victoria. Again. The NSW Premier announced tougher border restrictions (anyone coming in from Vic now has to go into supervised hotel quarantine at their own expense), and the QLD Premier announced tougher border restrictions heading North, as well. Apparently the whole of NSW is now a “hot spot.” Which is kind of darkly humorous, because while places like Bunnings and Maccas are masking up, the State government is still taking a “meh … if you feel like it … you can” approach to face coverings.

Now, I had no intentions of taking a wee trip at all, but with one best mate in Vancouver, two in Vic, and one in Tassie, as well as elderly and frequently hospitalised in-laws in Queensland, the thought of not being able to pull some cash from the Emergency Fund and get myself to a place of usefulness should I need to, is not at all pleasant.

Apart from not physically being able to travel, I’m also “not travelling well” at the moment. This morning we had a very long meeting of all the folks who have been awarded Global Challenges funding relating the the rolling crises on the South Coast, and began to figure out how the researchers and regional campuses will work together on these projects. Now, this is generally a very good thing, and it’s very exciting to hear people who really care trying to make a positive difference to our people and communities. But lots of talk about being careful not to re-traumatise community members impacted by the bushfires can be a little re-traumatising in and of itself, if you were in fact one of the community members impacted.

This coalesced with a couple of other thing with which I sometimes struggle- and here’s where the content warning really kicks in, so if you need to protect yourself, please do a better job than I unwittingly have the last few days.

So a while back I got a revise and resubmit on a pop culture/disability paper where I got “Reviewer 2ed”–and one of their criticisms was that I argued that multi-(mental illness) diagnosis households are rare onscreen. And so they cited Please Like Me as also having one. So I dutifully over-compensated and watched the series in its entirety. And it does, for quite a small fraction of time, have two housemates who met as in-patients in a private facility. Rose is played by Debra Lawrance (known to many Australians as the second Pippa from Home and Away) and Netflix breakout star Hannah Gadsby plays her roomie, also named Hannah. And (Spoiler Alert – in case you’re like me and haven’t yet seen it, and are, like me, silly enough to watch it without first Googling it) despite the character of Rose having multiple suicide attempts as a major part of her narrative, I was blindsided when her son found her body in one of the very final episodes.

I watched it yesterday.

Suicide onscreen upsets me enormously and my family are all very aware of how much it unsettles me, and why. They are also aware that I am more sensitive at two distinct times of the year: around Australia Day, and right around now. And sometimes we forget why I’m grumpy and unsettled and then look at the calendar and realise. You see, today would have been my better-than-best friend’s 48th birthday, and he died at his own hand in late January when we were both 23.

The “better than best” is an old in-joke of ours. It started when I went to Japan on student exchange, back in 1990. You see, I’m so old that back when I went on student exchange, we had to communicate by mail. And people who’d been through the experience before us would always warn that you’d have a very special letter-writing friend, and it wouldn’t be your “best” friend. And so it was that my “best” friend wrote like twice the whole year I was away, but this very quiet guy who used to hang with our group sometimes and whom I sat next to in roll call, surprised and delighted me by writing hilarious and detailed letters at least once a fortnight. I still have them. His name was Jamie, and he’s the reason our daughter is named Jamie.

I still miss him terribly, and I worry about sharing the story. I try to be careful to only tell my bit, and not encroach on the grief of his family (who have been absolutely wonderful to both our Jamie and her brother alike). But today, as always, he is very much loved and remembered. And I’m going to try show myself some kindness and compassion over the next day or two — the way he did.

Still going …

For the third Wednesday in a row, there are tradies here. The time we made up in the middle there we kind of lost again between the East Coast Low (I think the builders were diverting to working on an ark) and a few of the pieces we were trying to recycle have protested violently at the idea of being recycled.

This is actually where my kids used to play soccer; not where they learned to swim. Lyrebird Park. Photo: Greg Lawrence/South Coast Register

Jamie and I took advantage of the lull over the weekend to get in there and paint the ceiling and walls in that glorious period post-tiling and pre-fittings going in. Painting bathrooms is the painting I hate most of all, because there are so many fixtures and fittings to work around, and it’s really hard to get a painting platform over a toilet or half into a shower or into a bath. So to be able to sneak in while it was essentially a tiled shell was just about perfect. And Jamie deciding that she needed a weekend at home with her family- and being OK with once again jumping on the end of a roller!– certainly made everything faster and more pleasant.

Progress

I think today will be the final day, and then we have twenty-four hours of waiting for the silicone to set. Twenty-four hours where I can clean up and repack the vanity, which will mean a good clean-out and we’ll once again have a functional bath (which is what we are currently using to store that which normally lives in the vanity cabinet). We don’t use the bath much, but having it off limits has perversely made me wish I could.

In other news, the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) variation at work has been agreed by staff, so we’re off to Fair Work to ask for our pay to be reduced over the next couple of years. Against this backdrop, we’re all trying to come up with additional efficiencies. I feel sorely disadvantaged in this respect, because there’s not much accountancy in Arts or Education programs. I know I’m mathematically capable, I know I can (and do) manage a household budget, I listen to a lot of finance podcasts where people like Dave Ramsey throw around terms like “profit and loss statement” or “retained earnings” and I’m pretty sure I understand what they are on about, but inevitably I still feel I’m missing stuff.

So far, the readings are making sense but my confidence is not shifting much. We had our first (of four) virtual workshops today. I remain mildly terrified but I’ve paid my money and done 30% of the coursework, so I guess I’m committed!

Back to more “core” business: today I read the final draft of an application the University is putting forward to get some recognition for our staff and the amazing job they did during the bushfires. This is timely in a way, because our thoughts on how to plan, based on what happened over New Year, is due at the end of this week. So in between looking at columns of numbers, I’m looking at columns of recommendations I made earlier, and trying to prioritise them.

In the background, I have two writing projects on the go. Yes, we’re still looking for submissions about The Vampire Diaries! I’m also working on a Revise & Resubmit for a paper about mental illness on television. It was written more than a year ago, and bits and pieces of it have, of course, been adapted into our latest book, but it’s now about shiny-ing up a particular bit in a particular length for a particular audience.

So there it is: a pretty typical week in the life of a pretty typical academic, in many ways: researching, writing, doing admin. With a small side of mid-pandemic bathroom renovation project and local flood warnings thrown in, just to add to the degree of difficulty!